A Day in the Life: Sr. Lauren

Have you ever wondered what the life of a postulant is like in our monastery? In this blog post Sr. Lauren gives you a peek into her life as a postulant. Please keep her in your prayers as she will only be a postulant for less than a month more; on September 8th Sr. Lauren will begin her novitiate and become Sister….? Any guesses?

A Day in the Life of a Postulant:

If there’s one thing I learned in college, it’s that you should never get up before 9am unless the building is on fire. Classes can be switched, shifts re-arranged. Even in my work life I had rolling out of bed at 7am down to an art—out of the door by 7:30, fully dressed (thankfully), with a piece of toast to go and a dash of make-up if I was feeling particularly vulnerable. It comes as a shock to no one more than myself, then, that I’m now up every day with the bell at 5:20am and downstairs by 5:45. Of course, at this same uncommon hour, in the half-light of the cool, New Jersey morning, some daring sisters are already in the Refectory eating a highly efficient breakfast before Lauds and Matins.

Most shocking of all? They are awake when this happens and I am told that beds are made—one of the many wonders of the monastic life.

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By 5:55am we’re in choir. Here, we greet Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and begin the Divine Office; the sung Psalms and readings ensure that we start the day well and put all that will come into its proper place.

This is why we’re here.

This is why a group of women from such diverse backgrounds have come together ‘intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart’ (from The Rule of St. Augustine). With love, we place ourselves and the world into the hands of the Beloved with the quiet morning-voices of our praise.

Afterwards, there is time for further meditation. The community champions stay in the darkened chapel, braving an onslaught of sleepiness to remain with Jesus in this gladsome garden, while others take the time in the actual garden that hides from the city within our four and a half acre enclosure. Others return to their cells to be alone with the Lord for their morning Lectio Divina. Up in the novitiate—the separate part of the monastery reserved for sisters in formation—this means a gloriously golden sunrise peeking through the windows to warm the pages of the daily missal.

The highpoint of our day begins at 7:30am, when our chaplain offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with a brief homily and many entertaining anecdotes.

We tarry for ten minutes with the Beloved in thanksgiving for Holy Communion after Mass and before the first of the “Little Hours”—Terce. The Little Hours are shorter than Lauds and Vespers, like soundbites that keep us in tune with the Church’s 24-hour news cycle.    

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We then head back up to the Novitiate for a morning meeting before the work day begins. Unlike the bustling business of sidewalk weaving and meeting rooms, however, our work strives to be enveloped in love at a meditative pace. When I’m not in the soap department, mixing colors and fragrances, you may find me dusting in choir, or down in the laundry with Herman—our old dryer, who could probably regale us with countless stories from ‘the War Years’. Occasionally, our Novice Mistress, will assign other pressing tasks from around the monastery, such as putting together shelves for our delightful New Wing! 

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On some days of the week, we’re offered classes by the professed sisters, from Dominican history to Liturgy and Monasticism. Each of these classes is designed to help young sisters discover ‘the Life’ and better understand the calling to become a Dominican Nun. At the moment, we’re cycling through Holy Scripture in an ongoing study that covers the entire Bible.

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All of this is hungry work, and by the time Dinner comes around at noon we’re ready to devour the delicious fare prepared by our sister cooks. Eating is also a monastic exercise, and the transition from choir (where Sext is sung at 11:45) to the refectory is a continual liturgical act in itself, with the sisters lining up in the hallway before the meal to recite the De Profundis for the cherished benefactors who make our life possible. Eating together is an act of communion that follows on from our union in the liturgy of the Church. It was hugely important to our Holy Father Dominic, who believed that the love among the brothers and sisters of the Order was the most powerful manifestation of the Holy Preaching.

This communion is furthered by listening to reading in common—in our case, lectures on a variety of different topics, or sermons and talks recorded in other settings. This shared learning often gives us something to discuss (or debate strongly) when dishes are done and we begin our first period of recreation for the day at 12:45.

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This begins the period of midday rest, which brings out all the laughter and joy we’ve been storing up through the morning— walks in the garden, perhaps a charged game of ‘Settlers of Catan’, even the odd round of monastery baseball helps to bring us closer to each other and to recognize the wonder of the Resurrected Life in each other. It has been a mark of the Dominican charism across our eight hundred years to be full of a bright (and sometimes pretty loud) exuberance! Of course, this can be the best kind of exhausting if it’s done right. So, when the bell chimes at 1:30pm for the retreat into Profound Silence, many a sister can be discovered spending this time extremely profoundly—with a well-earned, midday nap.

After None at 3:00pm and the period of prayer and meditation following, the afternoon work period begins at 4:00. Some afternoons in the Novitiate are dedicated to creative pursuits, like learning calligraphy or a musical instrument.

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This is an example of the fullness found in our life, which draws on every part of us to worship the Lord in His richness, and celebrating His image in us beyond a simple productivity or a more common word today – usefulness. It is a challenge that the monastic life presents to the frantic world around us, and while no nun could ever denounce the value of true productivity, it is one of our greatest joys to say that man was made for more than this ‘usefulness’.

The wonder of God is within us for all manner of beautiful acts of worship.

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This is echoed throughout the day by the ‘Adoring Rosary’, a devotion peculiar to our branch of the Dominican Nuns. During the day, the Blessed Sacrament is perpetually exposed for adoration and a nun is always present in choir praying the Rosary in half-hour or hour shifts. Each sister cherishes this time alone with the Beloved.

This ongoing prayer is punctuated by our community Rosary at 5:20pm, followed by Vespers— my favorite of the Liturgy of the Hours, especially on the vigil of major solemnities when the incense comes out. As a convert, I’m still enamored of the glorious scent and the way it clings to everything. In the monastery, it flows rich through the hallways too, and serves as a constant reminder that Jesus is always present in the heart of our house.

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A light supper follows Vespers and then a period of study, which is another treasure of our Dominican charism. Sisters study all kinds of things, from Scripture to Philosophy to Greek and Latin.

After study, we enjoy another period of recreation and community sharing.

Finally, we settle into choir for Compline at 8:40pm and we say goodnight to the Lord. The Salve Regina and O Lumen (a chant for St. Dominic) finish off the last office of the day unless, of course, we’re having ‘Night Guard’; two nights of the week we take an hour each of the Adoring Rosary through until morning. Being a newcomer means that I don’t have a slot in the Guard, but I am assured by many of the sisters that once the initial shock of rising in the middle of the night is overcome, it’s a beautiful time.

As for the rest of us, we head back to our cells and slip merrily into dreamland ready to begin it all again tomorrow, thoroughly thankful for our pillows.